Alvaro Pineda was killed Jan. 18, 1975, before the fourth race at Santa Anita Park in California. The horse he was riding, Austin Mitler, reared and threw Pineda against the starting gate, fracturing the jockey's skull. He was 29 and one of the best race riders in the United States.
Tuesday at Bowie in the fourth race, Robert Pineda, 24, Alvaro's brother, suffered hairline fractures in his neck and back when he fell from a 3-year-old gelding named Exchange Time.
"I remembered laying second down the backside when another horse came inside me and as we were head and head, about to hit the turn, Chris (McCarron) came over from the outside to save ground," Pineda said yesterday in Doctors Hospital in Lanham. "Things got real tight. I couldn't take back in time. We got shut off. My horse clipped another horse's heels. We went down.
"It happened," Pineda described with a snap of the fingers, "just like that."
Pineda never lost consciousness. He did however, lose his breath.
"I was going crazy, down on the ground, trying to get my wind back; that's what I remembered the most," the jockey said. "Then the other horse came by. He didn't step on me, but he must have kicked me in the back of the head on the way out, toward the outside."
Pineda still bears two imprints on his forehead of the marks his safety helmet made when struck by Fancy Investment, the horse that hit him.
Fancy Investment was ridden by Gregg McCarron, who was unseated but escaped serious injury. Gregg's younger brother, Chris, went on to win the 1 1/16th mile event with Carolina Horn.
Most jockeys, when hospitalized, tend to be critical of the riders who they believe put them there. Pineda is no exception. He belives Chris McCarron came over him too sharply.
"I would have claimed foul Tuesday against him," Pineda said. A stewards' inquiry held McCarron blameless.
McCarron believes Pineda is over-reacting out of a "guilty conscience. His horse ducked away from mine," McCarron said. "I was nowhere near him. There was two or three feet of daylight between us. I know in my mind I did nothing wrong, but Pineda will never get a shot around here from me when he's in trouble. he's always yelling for room when he's on the inside but he never helps anyone else when they yell. He's the guy who's always hollering at the top of his lungs."
Those fans who witnessed the race may remember that Pineda's mount came out into Carolina Horn, initiating the bumping with McCarron's horse, before coming back in and clipping the heels of Archie Ben, ridden by Vince Bracciale.
No matter whose interpretation of the incident you believes, Maryland fans are aware by this time that Robert Pineda has more than enough courage to be a top ride in this state. Indeed, Pineda would be the first to agree.
"I'll be back, at Delaware Park," the jockey volunteered yesterday. "I don't mind saying things that will shake some of the boys up a little around here. I think I'm one of the best, with McCarron and Bracciale."
His record since coming to Maryland for the Pimlico meeting supports Pineda's confidence.
"Sonny Hine, the trainer, asked me to come here when he was at Santa Anita this winter. I'm glad I did," Pineda said, "I got here one day before the strike started." Now he will have another unscheduled vacation, of perhaps two months.
"My family is in Los Angeles," Pineda said. "I have five brothers and a sister. One brother, George, gallops horses at Monmouth Park. Another brother, David, who is 14, has gone back home to Mexico to become a jockey."
Which is where the Pineda brothers first made their reputation as horsemen.
"We lived in a little town, Guanajuato, near Mexico City." Robert remarked. "My dad had quarterhorses on our farm. We'd ride in match races. Then, one day, the president of the town thought my brother (Alvaro) was so good he wrote to a man at the Hippodrome de las American in Mexico City about him, and a trainer there soon took an interest in him that was the start."
Alvaro Pineda is listed as the only jockey to be killed at an American race track because of an accident at the starting gate. Robert Pineda has suffered broken collarbones and fractured vertebrae before this during his young career. But the threat, of serious injury or death does not deter the younger brother from what he wants to do.
"I may have to wear a brace for awhile, while I'm recovering," he said yesterday. "But I'll be back riding soon. It could have been much worse. The fractures are not bad breaks. I'm going to be leaving here in four or five days and go back to my apartment and begin to get ready, to get back for the next race. I like it here in Maryland."